To healthy people, he’d give grave diagnoses. To the ailing, he’d offer hope of a miraculous cure.
Darko Jovanovich would dole out medical advice with all the aplomb of a seasoned, compassionate professional.
There was only one problem: Jovanovich wasn’t a doctor. He was a fraudster who had so cleverly covered his tracks that even after his conviction for crimes committed over two years in the Windsor area, his past remains a mystery.
Jovanovich, 32, was sentenced this week to two more months in jail for fraud-related charges. He has been behind bars since March 4 when he was arrested for passing bad cheques, forging documents and performing bogus medical exams on the unwitting victims he had beguiled.
Jovanovich, a short, dark-haired man with bulging eyes and facial tics, did not pretend to be just any doctor. He told people he was a pediatric neurosurgeon with privileges at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital.
That’s the story he gave James Heugh, a personal trainer who had the misfortune of meeting Jovanovich last fall. Heugh was in a South Windsor bar with a co-worker when he happened upon a client who was discussing business with Jovanovich over drinks. Jovanovich seemed pleased about the serendipitous meeting, telling Heugh he was getting married in a few months and wanted to get into shape for his wedding.
A friendship developed as the soft-bodied Jovanovich showed up for training sessions week after week.
Jovanovich would spend the sessions lamenting about the toll his work was taking on him emotionally.
“He said he has the memory of all these dead kids on his conscience,” Heugh recalled.
“He’s almost in tears as he’s saying all this stuff.”
Jovanovich would come out with things like, “We lost another one today,” and “I know I can’t save them all.” Heugh would offer a sympathetic ear.
One day when Jovanovich came into the gym, Heugh had a sinus infection. Jovanovich pressed his fingers into Heugh’s face, neck and armpits, an act police later termed an assault. “It looked legitimate,” Heugh said. “Everything he did looked legitimate.”
After the phony exam, Jovanovich drove away in his black Jaguar, returning 30 minutes later with some pills. Jovanovich said they were samples from a drug company and he instructed Heugh on how to take them. To this day, Heugh has no idea what the pills were or how Jovanovich got them. But he is thankful he never used them.
Heugh was also suffering from a shoulder injury at the time. He had had an MRI which showed a mass in his humerus, the bone of his upper arm.
Of course, Heugh shared the information with his new doctor friend. Jovanovich showed grave concern, asking Heugh delicately if he had any family history of cancer. Heugh told him his grandmother and uncle had died of leukemia.
“He got this bad look in his eyes,” Heugh said. He remembers down to the letter what Jovanovich said next: “I was afraid you would say the ‘L’ word.”
Heugh was sick with worry until a CT-scan showed the mass to be benign and unrelated to the pain he was experiencing.
The entire incident soured his view of Jovanovich, but it also twigged Heugh onto the fact the self-proclaimed specialist might be a fraud.
In discussing his shoulder problem, Heugh discovered Jovanovich was not as familiar with human anatomy as you would expect a physician to be. One time, Heugh struggled to recall the name of the main muscle in the shoulder.
“You know, it’s called the workhorse of the rotator cuff,” Heugh told Jovanovich, trying to conjure the word supraspinatus. Jovanovich couldn’t come up with name either.
“That got me thinking,” Heugh said.
Jovanovich had yet to pay Heugh for a single training session. “I only have $100 bills,” and “I’ll catch you next time,” were Jovanovich’s usual excuses.
Jovanovich then offered Heugh a car in lieu of payment.
“I told him, ‘No, I can’t accept that,’” Heugh said. Jovanovich insisted that by taking the car, Heugh would be doing him a favour.
No car, nor money, ever materialized.
Jovanovich still owes Heugh $480.
Heugh knows he got off easy – financially and emotionally — compared to Jovanovich’s other victims.
Late last year, Jovanovich joined a local gym, befriending a female staff member there. The woman had a neck injury and Jovanovich gave her a free on-the-spot consultation.
Jovanovich convinced the woman she had a “pre-stroke condition” that needed immediate attention. He said he would schedule her for an MRI in Detroit so she wouldn’t have to wait. When the woman told him she was about to fly out for a Disney cruise with her little girl, Jovanovich told her, “I’d hate for you to die on the plane next to your daughter.”
The woman took the trip against Jovanovich’s advice. She worried about her condition the entire time.
All she really had was a minor injury.
Jovanovich never got to the point of getting any money from the woman, but he did with others.
He bilked one man who suffered from chronic pain out of $835 saying he had filled out the necessary paperwork to secure a prescription for medical marijuana.
He also swindled the man’s brother out of $1,350 by saying he’d have a relative fix a flooding problem at a rental property. The man wrote Jovanovich a Mastercard cheque for $350 to pay in advance for the work. Jovanovich not only cashed the cheque, but also charged another $1,000 to the man’s account.
As bad as that seemed, what Jovanovich did to one local family had even his own lawyer using the word “despicable” to describe it.
A couple had a daughter disabled by Apraxia, a neurological disorder that leaves sufferers unable to move at will. Jovanovich examined the nine-year-old girl in her home and told her parents her condition was due to a lesion on her brain. The lesion was operable, he promised.
In a follow-up meeting, Jovanovich showed the parents bogus documents to convince them he had scheduled an MRI for the girl at his hospital in Detroit in advance of laser surgery in Chicago.
Jovanovich claimed to have paid for the surgery himself and had the parents sign a contract to repay him the $58,000 cost over five years.
The entire scenario was a fraud. There was no MRI or miracle cure.
“That one’s the worst,” said Heugh of how Jovanovich preyed on the family’s hopes of a cure for their child.
The man who introduced Heugh to Jovanovich was local realtor Rhys Trenhaile. On the day Heugh and Jovanovich met, Trenhaile had just shown Jovanovich an $899,000 home in Southlawn Gardens.
To the Jewish owners who were home at the time of the showing, Jovanovich introduced himself as Dov Jovanovich, Dov being the Hebrew form of David. He immediately adopted what Trenhaile described as an authentic–sounding Yiddish accent. The intonation was so believable, he convinced the couple he had grown up in Israel and lived in New York before moving to this area.
This episode illustrated Jovanovich’s talent for more than deception.
Jovanovich spotted a baby grand in the home, and quickly sat down before it.
Trenhaile’s jaw dropped.
“This guy could really play. He was concerto class.”
So charmed by the young doctor, the couple soon poured a bottle of wine and listened to Jovanovich’s tales.
“He won them over,” Trenhaile said.
After leaving the house, Trenhaile and Jovanovich went to a sports bar in South Windsor for a couple beers. A well-read Jovanovich opined on geopolitics and bought rounds with a wad of $100 bills.
But like Heugh, Trenhaile, too, grew suspicious of Jovanovich in the ensuing weeks.
As is routine in any real estate deal, Trenhaile had asked Jovanovich to fill out government paperwork called Fintrac aimed at countering terrorists and money launderers.
“As soon as that came into play, he got indignant,” Trenhaile said.
Jovanovich’s refusal to sign the forms sent Trenhaile into detective mode. Trenhaile’s suspicions that Jovanovich was not on the up-and-up were confirmed when the realtor could find no listing for a Dov, David or Darko Jovanovich on any medical registry.
Trenhaile brought this information to police, but they were already on to Jovanovich.
Jovanovich had begun to infiltrate the local Italian community with his doctor persona. In this milieu, he claimed to be the grandson of a deceased doctor with the same surname who made house calls by bicycle and became a beloved fixture on Erie Street.
Jovanovich started visiting Guaranteed A Fine Furniture on Tecumseh Road East, where he introduced himself to co-owner Richard Vennettilli. Saying he was in the process of moving to Windsor and setting up a practice here, Jovanovich had Vennettilli sourcing $30,000 chandeliers and other pricey items that would be shipped from around the world.
“He played the part. He looked the part,” Vennettilli said. “I shook his hand. His hands were soft like a surgeon’s.”
Vennettilli, former chairman of the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital Foundation and head of the Windsor’s Canadian Italian Business Professional Association, began talking up Jovanovich in the community.
“I was endorsing him,” Vennettilli said, still amazed at Jovanovich’s capacity for deceit.
“I’m telling you, this story should begin with once upon a time, because it’s a fairy tale. None of what he said is true.”
Jovanovich managed to somehow get a condominium at Club Lofts on Wyandotte Street East, where units go for up to $500,000. He picked out a dining room set and leather sofa and chair worth $15,000 from Vennittilli’s store and had them delivered there.
Jovanovich paid for the furniture by cheque. When the cheque bounced, Vennettilli’s brother went to the police.
Fraud investigators arrested Jovanovich on Feb. 19 at a house on Flora Avenue. They were able to find him thanks to an observant neighbour who saw furniture being loaded onto a rental truck in the middle of the night.
After Jovanovich’s arrest, police put out a media release. Additional victims – 17 according to court documents — came out of the woodwork, saying Jovanovich had been operating in Windsor and Leamington for about two years. Police arrested him again on more charges.
One of his earliest victims was Slobodan Djuric. Djuric and his teenaged son, Aleks, were having dinner at East Side Mario’s one night in early 2013. As was their custom, the father and son were conversing in Serbian.
Jovanovich was soon in their midst, speaking Serbian too.
“This is how he meandered his way into our life,” said Aleks.
Jovanovich said he was the son of a prominent Toronto businessman. His father owned the Fabricland chain, he claimed.
Upon learning that Djuric installs windows and doors for a living, Jovanovich said his father owned lots of apartment buildings, too, and could send business Djuric’s way.
Over the next few months, Djuric had Jovanovich over for dinner, coffee and drinks. “He was a welcomed guest,” Djuric said.
One night while Jovanovich was over, Djuric fell ill. Jovanovich whisked him to Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital. Once there, Jovanovich told staff he was a physician. Djuric bypassed any emergency-room wait, had an MRI and was back home within three hours.
Djuric was thankful and impressed.
In April 2013 when Jovanovich told Djuric his father was coming to town, Djuric insisted they come for dinner.
“My wife is a good cook,” Djuric said.
On the appointed night, with a feast prepared, Jovanovich didn’t show up.
Djuric called his cellphone. Jovanovich said his father had suffered a heart attack and was in hospital.
The next day, Jovanovich told Djuric his father had died. “I cried for his father,” Djuric said. “I believed every word.”
Days later, Jovanovich came by the house, saying he wanted to return his father’s body to Serbia for burial. It would cost $170,000.
Djuric lent Jovanovich $6,500 to get the funeral preparations underway. Jovanovich pretended to repay him later with cheques from an overdrawn account.
Const. Rob Durling, a financial crimes investigator with Windsor police, said he comes across a lot of fraudsters in his line of work.
Jovanovich is a cut above.
“His delivery and the way he interacted with people was very smooth.”
In conversation, Jovanovich would be quiet, almost reserved, as he gained his victim’s trust. Durling described Jovanovich’s delivery as “efficient and calculated.”
In a court report referenced at his sentencing hearing, Jovanovich purports to have been born in Ottawa and raised in London. Durling said police have never been able to confirm his nationality nor citizenship.
Jovanovich claims to have been born out of wedlock to a single mom who worked two jobs. His mother, Nada Jovanovich, told the court in the same report that her mother raised Jovanovich despite being angry and bitter about her “bastard” grandson.
Jovanovich’s lawyer, Frank Retar, surmised Jovanovich grew up with feelings of inadequacy that led to him exaggerating his station in life.
In addition to speaking English, Hebrew and Serbian, Jovanovich is able to converse with Retar in Slovenian. To Retar’s articling student, Jovanovich speaks perfect Arabic.
But Retar admits Jovanovich still remains largely a mystery to him.
For instance, Jovanovich told Retar he has a political science degree from the University of Western Ontario. But a school spokeswoman told The Star Jovanovich was registered from 2001 to 2005 at affiliated Kings University College, but was deemed “ineligible to graduate.”
Curiously, Jovanovich registered for university under the surname of Jovanovich-Goldberg. The double-barrelled name never came up in the police investigation, Durling said.
A testament to how Jovanovich guarded his fake persona, he has no online presence and managed to avoid having any victim photograph him.
“He’s good,” said Durling – too good to be a novice at impersonation and fraud.
“Who knows what he’s done in other places.”
Source : https://windsorstar.com/uncategorized/his-delivery-was-very-smooth-fake-doctor-duped-victims-in-this-area-for-two-years-with-videos